Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Archive for the ‘nationalism’ Category

March 15th

Posted by Andy Hockley on 10 March, 2006

Next Wednesday is March 15th, which is a big day here, and this year promises to be a bigger day than normal. March 15th is the national day of Hungary ( I think, though I’ve also heard it referred to as the national day of Hungarians living outside Hungary.) Anyway, it’s marked on all the calendars, and for many here it’s an official holiday. It’s a bit nationalistic, but then all national days are a bit nationalistic, and so in essence it’s not greatly different from December 1st.

This year, however, some Hungarian nationalists have taken it upon themselves to make trouble. They have organised a rally in Udvarhely (Oderheiu Secuiesc) to proclaim the independence of the Szekely region and launch some kind of autonomous entity that presumably will exist only in their heads. This event (as I understand it) has been championed by the Mayor of Udvarhely, who has just been described to me as a Hungarian version of Vadim Tudor (leader of the extremist Romanian nationalist party). [Udvarhely, by the way, is the most Hungarian city in all of Romania, being 98% Hungarian].

Now, frankly, the best way to deal with this kind of provocative rubbish is to ignore it. A few hundred blokes gather in a field, proclaim independence and drink palinka, and go home feeling proud of themselves while the world pays them no attention or at best laughs at their delusions of grandeur. But this, sadly, will not happen next week. Because of course, never shy of taking an opportunity to make himself look important, and full of hysterical rhetoric, Vadim Tudor has sent out a call for action from proud Romanians everywhere, and asked for 100,000 people to descend on Udvarhely to stage a counter demonstration. (Romania has a less than proud tradition of violent outsiders being bussed in to start fights and suppress dissent – In the early months of the post-Ceausescu regime, a group of miners were bussed in by Iliescu (allegedly) to violently bust up a student protest; and in 1990 in Targu Mures a Romanian nationalist group stirred up anti Hungarian feeling in the villages and bussed in an angry mob to attack a group of Hungarian students demonstrating for a Hungarian language faculty, resulting in riots and deaths)

And thus, the situation could become tense, and, in the worst case scenario, violent. And once again the fact that broadly speaking Hungarians and Romanians live together fairly successfully and without rancour, will be obscured by a bunch of nationalist scum – Vadim Tudor will get his publicity, as will the Szekely Autonomists, and everyone on the extremes is happy. Everyone caught in the middle gets screwed. Of course the media will be complicit in the whole affair and will send camera crews to whip the thing up even further. And while it won’t start a civil war, it will put the cause of equality and understanding back a good decade. Nationalists, eh? Wankers, all of them.

Wih luck it will be a completely freezing day – two days ago here it was -24 again, only to be back up to zero again the following day, which is an insane temperature swing – and everyobody will stay home and the camera crews can just film the normal people of Udvarhely celebrating their national day with no politics attached.

Posted in hungarian nationalism, nationalism, transylvania | 17 Comments »

March to December

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 November, 2005

There are a bunch of soldiers marching around in the main square visible from my window. It seems they are rehearsing for Thursday. I’m not quite sure why they need to rehearse marching since it seems a fairly straightforward activity, but anyway, what do I know.

Tomorrow is, as you may know, December 1st. Unless you are Romanian or live here, you may not know that it is also the National Day of Romania. I mentioned it last year. Now recently, in the comments section of another post I wrote, someone called Albinel (near the end) commented that he could never vote for autonomy while people in this region didn’t celebrate December 1st. This struck me as odd, and I’ll attempt to explain why.

December 1st is the country’s national day. If it were merely that, then it should obviously be celebrated by everyone. But the reason it is Romania’s national day is that it celebrates the “unification of Romania” in 1918. Now the other side of that coin is that it is the day when Transylvania ceased to be part of Hungary. In effect, while it is a celebration of the creation of modern day Romania, it is also a celebration of the destruction of what used to be Hungary. So, as you might imagine, Hungarian Romanians are not that enthusiastic about celebrating it. In fact, it would be weird for them to celebrate it, and this has nothing to do with any lack of patriotism or anti-Romanian feeling. If the national day in Romania were timed at and billed as the celebration of the signing of the constitution for example, then it would truly be an inclusive celebration. If it were a day celebrating the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime, then once again, it would include all groups of the country. But celebrating the addition of Transylvania to Romania, while perfectly understandable as a Romanian celebration, is never likely to be a celebration for Hungarians.

I discovered today, to go on top of this, that there’s actually a law that you have to celebrate December the 1st. Which means that the government (or whichever government wrote that law) knows full well that it’s not very inclusive, and that people are going have to be coerced into feeling Romanian. It’s not a law that gets obeyed much, if my observations last year are anything to go by.

One final thing. Military parades. What’s that all about? Do people (I mean real, normal, regular people) get a kick out of military parades? Do people think to themselves, “Hmmm, there’s a military parade going on this afternoon, I mustn’t miss that.”? So who are they parading for? It’s either for the commanders who can feel good about how much mightiness they have at their disposal, or for the people that this army might be one day employed to subjugate. “Look,” they are saying in their curious goose-stepping body language, “don’t try anything people, or we will be forced to march on you.”

Now I don’t actually think that the army will be marching in downtown Csikszereda tomorrow just to make sure that the Szekelys don’t rise up, and that it’s more to do with half-arsed tradition, but it seems to me that someone could at least ponder this for a while, and wonder whether or not it might be seen as provocative in any way. In the meantime, I have to say that for a group of people who have more or less nothing to do except march, they’re remarkably bad at it. They’ve been practising all day and they still making mistakes.

But anyway, I hope all my Romanian readers have a good December 1st, and enjoy your nation’s birthday. You can have Csikszereda’s piece of cake.

Posted in csikszereda, nationalism, romania, transylvania | 20 Comments »

March to December

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 November, 2005

There are a bunch of soldiers marching around in the main square visible from my window. It seems they are rehearsing for Thursday. I’m not quite sure why they need to rehearse marching since it seems a fairly straightforward activity, but anyway, what do I know.

Tomorrow is, as you may know, December 1st. Unless you are Romanian or live here, you may not know that it is also the National Day of Romania. I mentioned it last year. Now recently, in the comments section of another post I wrote, someone called Albinel (near the end) commented that he could never vote for autonomy while people in this region didn’t celebrate December 1st. This struck me as odd, and I’ll attempt to explain why.

December 1st is the country’s national day. If it were merely that, then it should obviously be celebrated by everyone. But the reason it is Romania’s national day is that it celebrates the “unification of Romania” in 1918. Now the other side of that coin is that it is the day when Transylvania ceased to be part of Hungary. In effect, while it is a celebration of the creation of modern day Romania, it is also a celebration of the destruction of what used to be Hungary. So, as you might imagine, Hungarian Romanians are not that enthusiastic about celebrating it. In fact, it would be weird for them to celebrate it, and this has nothing to do with any lack of patriotism or anti-Romanian feeling. If the national day in Romania were timed at and billed as the celebration of the signing of the constitution for example, then it would truly be an inclusive celebration. If it were a day celebrating the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime, then once again, it would include all groups of the country. But celebrating the addition of Transylvania to Romania, while perfectly understandable as a Romanian celebration, is never likely to be a celebration for Hungarians.

I discovered today, to go on top of this, that there’s actually a law that you have to celebrate December the 1st. Which means that the government (or whichever government wrote that law) knows full well that it’s not very inclusive, and that people are going have to be coerced into feeling Romanian. It’s not a law that gets obeyed much, if my observations last year are anything to go by.

One final thing. Military parades. What’s that all about? Do people (I mean real, normal, regular people) get a kick out of military parades? Do people think to themselves, “Hmmm, there’s a military parade going on this afternoon, I mustn’t miss that.”? So who are they parading for? It’s either for the commanders who can feel good about how much mightiness they have at their disposal, or for the people that this army might be one day employed to subjugate. “Look,” they are saying in their curious goose-stepping body language, “don’t try anything people, or we will be forced to march on you.”

Now I don’t actually think that the army will be marching in downtown Csikszereda tomorrow just to make sure that the Szekelys don’t rise up, and that it’s more to do with half-arsed tradition, but it seems to me that someone could at least ponder this for a while, and wonder whether or not it might be seen as provocative in any way. In the meantime, I have to say that for a group of people who have more or less nothing to do except march, they’re remarkably bad at it. They’ve been practising all day and they still making mistakes.

But anyway, I hope all my Romanian readers have a good December 1st, and enjoy your nation’s birthday. You can have Csikszereda’s piece of cake.

Posted in csikszereda, nationalism, romania, transylvania | 20 Comments »

The minority law and the far right

Posted by Andy Hockley on 15 November, 2005

The political scene in Romania is currently gripped by the debate over the minority law. It’s difficult to find English language sources regarding this debate but I think it’s worth looking at anyway. What follows is what I’ve been able to glean about this debate from my limited Romanian and Hungarian and from talking to people. If there are any inaccuracies, I hope someone will please correct me via the comments page.

From what I understand, there is a bill before parliament to enshrine in law basic rights for minorities. It’s not that these rights don’t already exist in practice, but that they are not formally stated anywhere [Edit: Note comments from Andrei below]. This bill is proposed by the UDMR which is the Hungarian party in the Romanian parliament. [The UDMR is a fairly moderate centre right party politically, but its main function is to represent the interests of the Hungarian minority in Romania.] Because of the political makeup of the parliament, the UDMR are almost always a partner in whatever coalition government is ruling, and one condition of their joining the government is that they get to put this bill before parliament. So this isn’t the first time it’s come up, but each time it does, it seems like the dominant coalition partner (whether this be the DA as now, or the PSD as before) renege on the deal and start trying to weasel out of it.

So now it’s come up again. What amounts to a fairly watered down version of the original bill is up before parliament and it is being attacked left, right, and centre. Mostly, of course, by the ultra right, for whom minority rights are anathema. Cornelius Vadim Tudor, the ultra scumbag leader of the ultra rightist Party of the Romanian Nightmare (not actually the real name of the party), is pulling out all the stops to fill the population with fear of this terrifying Hungarian minority. Apparently this law will subject Romanians to oppression by those evil Hungarians. It’s an old trick – white supremacists argue that laws promoting diversity and human rights are actually laws designed to attack white people. So it is with Vadim Tudor. Vadim Tudor is the worst kind of bigot – he’s actually quite intelligent I think and he knows this fear-laden rhetoric is the way to mobilise people to support him. So, he whips people into a nationalistic fervour by claiming that the minorities are out to attack their right to exist and to be Romanian or something. In a recent debate he said, and I swear I’m not making this up “Do you really want Romanians to defend themselves alone? They will! I promise you things will go that far!” That’s practically inciting civil war, and he gets away with that shit, and not only that, but they give him vast amounts of air time on TV. He is utter utter scum. He also described the UDMR as a “terrorist organization”, just to really ratchet up the fear factor among his rural uneducated voting public.

Now, if it were just him attacking the bill, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all, but in fact the supposedly left wing PSD have also seized upon his coat tails for a spot of populist bigotry and have launched into the debate. I didn’t have any respect for them before, but now what little hope I held out for this bunch has gone right out the window. Also members of the DA (the dominant part of the coalition) have been speaking up against it, which means probably that it’s dead in the water. The media here are focussing on what this means for the government and whether the UDMR will pull out of the coalition and bring down the government, forcing early elections. But this is not the real issue (it just allows people to not think about the real issue).

What then, is the real issue? The debate around the bill seems to be centred on the phrase “cultural autonomy”, which, as far as I can tell, allows minorities the right to have an education in their native language and so on. In the case of Hungarians, at least, this already happens (at least up to age 18). What the anti camp are really against, I suspect, is the word “autonomy” featuring anywhere in any document ever. This bill does not, categorically, request any kind for autonomy for Harghita and Covasna counties, nor for Transylvania as a whole. But, the people against it like to present it as the thin end of the wedge and the beginning of this Hungarian master plan to break Transylvania (or parts of it) away from Romania. And of course they then hold up the example of these poor oppressed Romanians living in Harghita and Covasna counties who are already suffering mightily at the hands of these brutal Magyars, and if this master plan comes to fruition will be somehow oppressed and magyarised as they were at the end of the 19th century.

The other issue is language. Now it seems that many Romanians are convinced that Transylvanian Hungarians cannot and will not speak Romanian. I don’t know where they get this idea from, but it seems to have a lot of currency, even among well educated Romanians. Now, it is possible, that in remote villages people don’t speak Romanian well, or in some cases maybe at all. But Romanian is taught in schools, kids need to pass their Romanian exams to get through the various general exams and to leave high school with a qualification. I can honestly say I don’t know and have never met any Romanian citizen who doesn’t speak Romanian. Maybe they’re not all completely fluent and maybe they have an accent, but they speak the language. What seems to upset people is that, shockingly, they persist in speaking to one another in their native language. People who are otherwise quite intelligent have asked me whether this is “normal”. Whether it’s normal that people speak their first language to each other. I have to respond that yes it is, and to deny the people the right to use their native language is characteristic of dictatorships and oppressive regimes. And to offer people an education in their native language in their home country is not in some way weird or anti-patriotic whatever it is they fear. Democratic Spain for example offers Catalans and Basques the right to an education in their native language, while under Franco there were attempts to ban the languages outright. Which of these two governments is more modern and “European”? (I ought to note that one of the bizarrest arguments against the minority law is that it is “un-European”). The only thing that I can possibly imagine is that in the twisted political climate of fear and insecurity brought about by the posturing of idiots like Vadim Tudor, when people hear a conversation conducted by Hungarian Romanians in Hungarian they assume it to be some kind of plotting against the state.

To close, I have to say that listening to the rhetoric of the ultra nationalist PRM, while knowing that they command about 12-13% of recent polls, is the first time since I came here that I have wondered if just maybe there could be some kind of mini civil war in Transylvania. My hope is that the majority of the supporters of CVT and his ilk are actually not from Transylvania and in fact live in isolated rural communities in Oltenia and the like where they can’t do any damage. But this kind of hard line talk of terrorism and of Romanians “defending themselves” is just the kind of thing that Milosevic was saying in 1989. Fortunately, CVT doesn’t have the power that Milosevic did then, but it’s a slippery slope and as long as he’s given a platform to air his odious views, the damage is being done.

Posted in nationalism, news, transylvania, xenophobia | 29 Comments »

The minority law and the far right

Posted by Andy Hockley on 15 November, 2005

The political scene in Romania is currently gripped by the debate over the minority law. It’s difficult to find English language sources regarding this debate but I think it’s worth looking at anyway. What follows is what I’ve been able to glean about this debate from my limited Romanian and Hungarian and from talking to people. If there are any inaccuracies, I hope someone will please correct me via the comments page.

From what I understand, there is a bill before parliament to enshrine in law basic rights for minorities. It’s not that these rights don’t already exist in practice, but that they are not formally stated anywhere [Edit: Note comments from Andrei below]. This bill is proposed by the UDMR which is the Hungarian party in the Romanian parliament. [The UDMR is a fairly moderate centre right party politically, but its main function is to represent the interests of the Hungarian minority in Romania.] Because of the political makeup of the parliament, the UDMR are almost always a partner in whatever coalition government is ruling, and one condition of their joining the government is that they get to put this bill before parliament. So this isn’t the first time it’s come up, but each time it does, it seems like the dominant coalition partner (whether this be the DA as now, or the PSD as before) renege on the deal and start trying to weasel out of it.

So now it’s come up again. What amounts to a fairly watered down version of the original bill is up before parliament and it is being attacked left, right, and centre. Mostly, of course, by the ultra right, for whom minority rights are anathema. Cornelius Vadim Tudor, the ultra scumbag leader of the ultra rightist Party of the Romanian Nightmare (not actually the real name of the party), is pulling out all the stops to fill the population with fear of this terrifying Hungarian minority. Apparently this law will subject Romanians to oppression by those evil Hungarians. It’s an old trick – white supremacists argue that laws promoting diversity and human rights are actually laws designed to attack white people. So it is with Vadim Tudor. Vadim Tudor is the worst kind of bigot – he’s actually quite intelligent I think and he knows this fear-laden rhetoric is the way to mobilise people to support him. So, he whips people into a nationalistic fervour by claiming that the minorities are out to attack their right to exist and to be Romanian or something. In a recent debate he said, and I swear I’m not making this up “Do you really want Romanians to defend themselves alone? They will! I promise you things will go that far!” That’s practically inciting civil war, and he gets away with that shit, and not only that, but they give him vast amounts of air time on TV. He is utter utter scum. He also described the UDMR as a “terrorist organization”, just to really ratchet up the fear factor among his rural uneducated voting public.

Now, if it were just him attacking the bill, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all, but in fact the supposedly left wing PSD have also seized upon his coat tails for a spot of populist bigotry and have launched into the debate. I didn’t have any respect for them before, but now what little hope I held out for this bunch has gone right out the window. Also members of the DA (the dominant part of the coalition) have been speaking up against it, which means probably that it’s dead in the water. The media here are focussing on what this means for the government and whether the UDMR will pull out of the coalition and bring down the government, forcing early elections. But this is not the real issue (it just allows people to not think about the real issue).

What then, is the real issue? The debate around the bill seems to be centred on the phrase “cultural autonomy”, which, as far as I can tell, allows minorities the right to have an education in their native language and so on. In the case of Hungarians, at least, this already happens (at least up to age 18). What the anti camp are really against, I suspect, is the word “autonomy” featuring anywhere in any document ever. This bill does not, categorically, request any kind for autonomy for Harghita and Covasna counties, nor for Transylvania as a whole. But, the people against it like to present it as the thin end of the wedge and the beginning of this Hungarian master plan to break Transylvania (or parts of it) away from Romania. And of course they then hold up the example of these poor oppressed Romanians living in Harghita and Covasna counties who are already suffering mightily at the hands of these brutal Magyars, and if this master plan comes to fruition will be somehow oppressed and magyarised as they were at the end of the 19th century.

The other issue is language. Now it seems that many Romanians are convinced that Transylvanian Hungarians cannot and will not speak Romanian. I don’t know where they get this idea from, but it seems to have a lot of currency, even among well educated Romanians. Now, it is possible, that in remote villages people don’t speak Romanian well, or in some cases maybe at all. But Romanian is taught in schools, kids need to pass their Romanian exams to get through the various general exams and to leave high school with a qualification. I can honestly say I don’t know and have never met any Romanian citizen who doesn’t speak Romanian. Maybe they’re not all completely fluent and maybe they have an accent, but they speak the language. What seems to upset people is that, shockingly, they persist in speaking to one another in their native language. People who are otherwise quite intelligent have asked me whether this is “normal”. Whether it’s normal that people speak their first language to each other. I have to respond that yes it is, and to deny the people the right to use their native language is characteristic of dictatorships and oppressive regimes. And to offer people an education in their native language in their home country is not in some way weird or anti-patriotic whatever it is they fear. Democratic Spain for example offers Catalans and Basques the right to an education in their native language, while under Franco there were attempts to ban the languages outright. Which of these two governments is more modern and “European”? (I ought to note that one of the bizarrest arguments against the minority law is that it is “un-European”). The only thing that I can possibly imagine is that in the twisted political climate of fear and insecurity brought about by the posturing of idiots like Vadim Tudor, when people hear a conversation conducted by Hungarian Romanians in Hungarian they assume it to be some kind of plotting against the state.

To close, I have to say that listening to the rhetoric of the ultra nationalist PRM, while knowing that they command about 12-13% of recent polls, is the first time since I came here that I have wondered if just maybe there could be some kind of mini civil war in Transylvania. My hope is that the majority of the supporters of CVT and his ilk are actually not from Transylvania and in fact live in isolated rural communities in Oltenia and the like where they can’t do any damage. But this kind of hard line talk of terrorism and of Romanians “defending themselves” is just the kind of thing that Milosevic was saying in 1989. Fortunately, CVT doesn’t have the power that Milosevic did then, but it’s a slippery slope and as long as he’s given a platform to air his odious views, the damage is being done.

Posted in nationalism, news, transylvania, xenophobia | 29 Comments »

Cluj

Posted by Andy Hockley on 31 October, 2005

Cluj was nice. It has that kind of faded belle époque grandeur even though it’s pretty much falling down in places. Under the Hungarians it (Kolozsvar) was the capital of Transylvania. It was the cultural centre, the academic centre, the administrative centre. And you can see that it was once important.

It’s still one of the most (possibly still the most) widely respected university in Romania, and it really does feel like a student town. In fact the first afternoon we were there every single person I saw walking round was either a student or someone doing a passable imitation of one. The population of the city is approximately 300,000 and to this is added something like 80-100,000 every term time. Some locals we were talking to told us that in fact the plan is that in the next 5 years the student population will be increased to something like 400,000. Yes, you read that correctly. Where they will fit is anyone’s guess. It already feels like the world’s most student dominated town. And I speak as someone who comes from Cambridge.

Those unfamiliar with Romania may have looked Cluj up or see on a map that it is officially called “Cluj-Napoca”. Napoca is the name of the Roman settlement in the same spot, and it has been appended to the name (I think during the Ceasescu years) in order to remind people of that fact (you see, if it’s Roman, then it has a history that predates its Hungarian one. It’s all very forced). In fact, the city has come to symbolise the worst and most ridiculous excesses of nationalism. In the late 90s the people somehow elected this psycho idiot called Gheorghe Funar (from the revolting PRM Romanian nationalist party) as mayor. He proceeded to do petty and childish things like painting all the benches and lampposts red yellow and blue (colours of the Romanian flag), and then in the middle of town, where there is a large statue of Mátyás Corvinus, a famous Hungarian king who was born in the town, he first removed the word Hungarian from the plaque, and then decided to have an archaeological dig for Roman ruins right there in the same square. This dig necessitated the statue being hidden behind a wooden screen, and then latterly moved somewhere else so they could dig under it. Fortunately at this point the director of the National History Museum stepped in and told him to sling his hook, but this big pit still exists right in front of the statue. Basically, as with most nationalists he was (and presumably still is – while he’s no longer mayor, he’s still alive) an exceptionally childish individual. I think the brain power involved in choosing to be an extreme nationalist is such a regression of humanity that one ends up applying the retardedness to all aspects of ones life.

I have a pic of the statue which I’ll put up later in the week. However tomorrow I have to do a mad day trip to Bucharest (5 hours in 5 hours back, for a one hour meeting), so I won’t be on till Wednesday.

Posted in nationalism, transylvania, travel | 2 Comments »

Cluj

Posted by Andy Hockley on 31 October, 2005

Cluj was nice. It has that kind of faded belle époque grandeur even though it’s pretty much falling down in places. Under the Hungarians it (Kolozsvar) was the capital of Transylvania. It was the cultural centre, the academic centre, the administrative centre. And you can see that it was once important.

It’s still one of the most (possibly still the most) widely respected university in Romania, and it really does feel like a student town. In fact the first afternoon we were there every single person I saw walking round was either a student or someone doing a passable imitation of one. The population of the city is approximately 300,000 and to this is added something like 80-100,000 every term time. Some locals we were talking to told us that in fact the plan is that in the next 5 years the student population will be increased to something like 400,000. Yes, you read that correctly. Where they will fit is anyone’s guess. It already feels like the world’s most student dominated town. And I speak as someone who comes from Cambridge.

Those unfamiliar with Romania may have looked Cluj up or see on a map that it is officially called “Cluj-Napoca”. Napoca is the name of the Roman settlement in the same spot, and it has been appended to the name (I think during the Ceasescu years) in order to remind people of that fact (you see, if it’s Roman, then it has a history that predates its Hungarian one. It’s all very forced). In fact, the city has come to symbolise the worst and most ridiculous excesses of nationalism. In the late 90s the people somehow elected this psycho idiot called Gheorghe Funar (from the revolting PRM Romanian nationalist party) as mayor. He proceeded to do petty and childish things like painting all the benches and lampposts red yellow and blue (colours of the Romanian flag), and then in the middle of town, where there is a large statue of Mátyás Corvinus, a famous Hungarian king who was born in the town, he first removed the word Hungarian from the plaque, and then decided to have an archaeological dig for Roman ruins right there in the same square. This dig necessitated the statue being hidden behind a wooden screen, and then latterly moved somewhere else so they could dig under it. Fortunately at this point the director of the National History Museum stepped in and told him to sling his hook, but this big pit still exists right in front of the statue. Basically, as with most nationalists he was (and presumably still is – while he’s no longer mayor, he’s still alive) an exceptionally childish individual. I think the brain power involved in choosing to be an extreme nationalist is such a regression of humanity that one ends up applying the retardedness to all aspects of ones life.

I have a pic of the statue which I’ll put up later in the week. However tomorrow I have to do a mad day trip to Bucharest (5 hours in 5 hours back, for a one hour meeting), so I won’t be on till Wednesday.

Posted in nationalism, transylvania, travel | 2 Comments »

Romanian cycle paths

Posted by Andy Hockley on 24 October, 2005

The pavement outside the building in which Erika’s workplace resides is being dug up. Nobody is quite sure why. Well, one hopes that somebody knows why, but most people don’t. We asked the workmen for example, and they said that they were told what to do on a daily basis, and not informed of the final product they were aiming for. It’s obviously very hush-hush when the people actually doing the work are treated on a need-to-know basis. (The flaw in this system became apparent last week, when they had to take up a bunch of edging stones which they had laid a few days earlier and put them somewhere else.) We asked an officious looking bloke who was hanging round watching them work – not working or supervising you understand, just the kind of person who always gravitates towards public working situations and offers advice and the benefit of years of experience standing round watching work get done by other people – and he said that he had heard that they were building a cycle path. “A cycle path! In Csikszereda! About as likely as a shopping mall”, we snorted, derisively. Mind you, the piece of pavement being replaced is only about 200m long, and given that there are no other cycle paths in the town, it is just possible that something as ludicrous as an isolated, unconnected, useless piece of cycle path is just the kind of thing that would have occurred to the mayor.

I’m wondering if the people who live in this building have complained. (I should note here, that while I don’t work for Erika, I tend to spend my days working at “the Soros” as it is known. I could work at home, but (a) Bogi gets back at about 3, and she doesn’t really understand the concept of someone being on a computer and not playing games, and (b) I find I do even less work if I’m at home than I do if I make the effort to have a shower, get dressed, and commute the five minutes to here.) This building is an interesting sociological and intercultural communication case study. You see, the thing is this: Romania is a country dominated by Romanians (unsurprisingly). They (ethnic Romanians) are the majority and they make up somewhere between 84 and 91% of the total population (depending on what the real proportion of Roma in Romania really is). But here in Csikszereda they are the minority. This town is roughly 90% Hungarian and so the proportions are almost the mirror image of the nation as a whole. This creates a certain amount of resentment among the local Romanian population, of the “here we are in our home country, but everybody speaks a foreign language” kind. Obviously not true of everyone, but of some at least.

What does all of this have to do with this building? Well, here, most of the apartments are owned by the police and the military, and hence they are inhabited by Romanians (although the country as a whole is 90% Romanian, the armed services and police forces are closer to 99% Romanian). Here in this building they reclaim their majority status and can feel like there is a corner of Miercurea Ciuc which is forever Dacian (or something). Unfortunately for them, they are forced to share their building with Erika’s school, which of course, being a school, has a large number of people coming and going all the time, most of whom are Hungarian (reflecting the make-up of the community). For the more reactionary and nationalist members of the building (and let’s not forget that the army and police force tend to have a higher wanker quotient than most other members of any society), this is intolerable and they set about asserting their authority in childish and irritating ways. Last week, for example, they locked the lift door on the third floor so that you couldn’t use it to get to floor of the school. Other times one or two of them get drunk and storm into the office moaning about people being allowed into the building without someone checking their ID. It would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating and, at times, downright frightening (one advantage / disadvantage is that the school is staffed entirely by women – meaning, I suspect, that the complainants don’t usually get too belligerent, but also that whoever is there when the drunken boors decide that today is the day to re-assert Romanian dominance can end up feeling quite shaken by the experience). Most of them are completely fine, I have to say, but the one or two who aren’t fine, are quite nasty pieces of work.

It must have really pissed them off when this street was renamed Kossuth Lajos. Maybe the pavement digging is just another step in the same process.

Posted in intercultural communication, nationalism | Leave a Comment »

Romanian cycle paths

Posted by Andy Hockley on 24 October, 2005

The pavement outside the building in which Erika’s workplace resides is being dug up. Nobody is quite sure why. Well, one hopes that somebody knows why, but most people don’t. We asked the workmen for example, and they said that they were told what to do on a daily basis, and not informed of the final product they were aiming for. It’s obviously very hush-hush when the people actually doing the work are treated on a need-to-know basis. (The flaw in this system became apparent last week, when they had to take up a bunch of edging stones which they had laid a few days earlier and put them somewhere else.) We asked an officious looking bloke who was hanging round watching them work – not working or supervising you understand, just the kind of person who always gravitates towards public working situations and offers advice and the benefit of years of experience standing round watching work get done by other people – and he said that he had heard that they were building a cycle path. “A cycle path! In Csikszereda! About as likely as a shopping mall”, we snorted, derisively. Mind you, the piece of pavement being replaced is only about 200m long, and given that there are no other cycle paths in the town, it is just possible that something as ludicrous as an isolated, unconnected, useless piece of cycle path is just the kind of thing that would have occurred to the mayor.

I’m wondering if the people who live in this building have complained. (I should note here, that while I don’t work for Erika, I tend to spend my days working at “the Soros” as it is known. I could work at home, but (a) Bogi gets back at about 3, and she doesn’t really understand the concept of someone being on a computer and not playing games, and (b) I find I do even less work if I’m at home than I do if I make the effort to have a shower, get dressed, and commute the five minutes to here.) This building is an interesting sociological and intercultural communication case study. You see, the thing is this: Romania is a country dominated by Romanians (unsurprisingly). They (ethnic Romanians) are the majority and they make up somewhere between 84 and 91% of the total population (depending on what the real proportion of Roma in Romania really is). But here in Csikszereda they are the minority. This town is roughly 90% Hungarian and so the proportions are almost the mirror image of the nation as a whole. This creates a certain amount of resentment among the local Romanian population, of the “here we are in our home country, but everybody speaks a foreign language” kind. Obviously not true of everyone, but of some at least.

What does all of this have to do with this building? Well, here, most of the apartments are owned by the police and the military, and hence they are inhabited by Romanians (although the country as a whole is 90% Romanian, the armed services and police forces are closer to 99% Romanian). Here in this building they reclaim their majority status and can feel like there is a corner of Miercurea Ciuc which is forever Dacian (or something). Unfortunately for them, they are forced to share their building with Erika’s school, which of course, being a school, has a large number of people coming and going all the time, most of whom are Hungarian (reflecting the make-up of the community). For the more reactionary and nationalist members of the building (and let’s not forget that the army and police force tend to have a higher wanker quotient than most other members of any society), this is intolerable and they set about asserting their authority in childish and irritating ways. Last week, for example, they locked the lift door on the third floor so that you couldn’t use it to get to floor of the school. Other times one or two of them get drunk and storm into the office moaning about people being allowed into the building without someone checking their ID. It would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating and, at times, downright frightening (one advantage / disadvantage is that the school is staffed entirely by women – meaning, I suspect, that the complainants don’t usually get too belligerent, but also that whoever is there when the drunken boors decide that today is the day to re-assert Romanian dominance can end up feeling quite shaken by the experience). Most of them are completely fine, I have to say, but the one or two who aren’t fine, are quite nasty pieces of work.

It must have really pissed them off when this street was renamed Kossuth Lajos. Maybe the pavement digging is just another step in the same process.

Posted in intercultural communication, nationalism | Leave a Comment »

Who are Romanians and what do they believe?

Posted by Andy Hockley on 6 September, 2005

“Romanians believe they show less positive personality traits than the “European person”. They even admit having outright negative traits such as being somewhat insensitive to others, leaning towards aggressiveness, and authoritarianism, behaving like followers rather than leaders, reacting tensely, walking on the thin line between honesty and dishonesty, being rather disorganized, idealistic, superficial and conservative.”

This is one summary statement from the fascinating study Romanian and European values and beliefs: are they different or not ? which was published in June apparently but has only today come to my attention. (It’s a pdf file and rather long at that, so be prepared for a wait).

The survey looks at the (self-perceived) differences and similarities between Romanians and Western Europeans, whether “European values” are respected in Romania, to what extent “non-European values” are accepted here, what Romania’s agenda should be, and the perceptions of the EU, acession, and various public figures. It’s all pretty interesting stuff.

There are some horrifying statistics contained therein – 38% of population believe that “Homosexuals are hardly better than criminals” for example, and 46% think “Superior and inferior races are a reality”. Some surprising ones – 64% say that there are “Too many foreigners in the country at the expense of Romanians” (in truth this may only be surprising to someone like me who lives in a town with practically no immigrants). Some pleasantly surprising ones – only 42% think that there are “More lawbreakers among gypsies than among Romanians” (I would have expected it to be much higher), and at least one extremely misinformed one – 62% think that “Ethnic groups should be obliged to learn Romanian”. (They ARE for god’s sake! I live in one of the few towns where you could theoretically get by without learning Romanian, but everybody who wants to graduate from school, to obtain anything resembling a reasonable level of education or to be able to survive in the country as a whole must -and does- learn Romanian. It’s stunning to me that there are people in this country who think that the ethnic minorities are swanning around NOT able to speak the national language.)

56% of the population are hopeful about EU accession with 39% worried, with the majority seeing that accession will bring short term drawbacks with long term advantages (that’s pretty much my view too).

The best bit is tucked away at the end, where various “potential communicators” are ranked according to how aware the public are of them and how competent they are perceived. The two most competent are seen to be Basescu (100% awareness) and Jonathan Scheele (37% awareness), who is (as far as I know) the chief EU bod in the country. The least competent? Gigi Becali (94% awareness). Hah.

By the way, when reading through the list of traits of a Western European as compared with Romanians (by Romanians) it’s fairly clear that most people interpret “Western European” to equate to “Western and Northern European”, which is interesting. (Western Europeans are perceived as cold and reserved for example).

Anyway, probably very interesting reading for any Romanian readers, but not especially interesting for anybody else.

Posted in nationalism, romania, romanian | 5 Comments »